Do L.A. Lakers Have Best Backcourt and Frontcourt in the NBA?
After a team has made major changes to their personnel, it's always a bit difficult forecasting how they'll actually play on the floor. There are variables beyond the inherent talent the players possess and those must be taken into account when evaluating what will occur when they actually play the games.
It's why Chris Bosh can say that the Lakers have the best team on paper (a point that Kevin Durant essentially reiterated) and everyone understands what his qualifier means. We need to see some evidence before we come to any hard conclusions.
That said, the "on paper" argument is one that still carries some weight. After all, one of the key requisites for a team being successful is them having the adequate talent to do so. Teams don't win without the horses and in acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers added two thoroughbreds to their stable that instantly upgraded their roster into the upper crust of the association.
Furthermore, when the Lakers added those two players specifically, they bolstered the compartmentalized units on their team. Said another way, the Lakers already boasted one of the best two shooting guards in the league and one of the best handful of power forwards. In adding the league's best center and one of the top point guards, the Lakers have created a backcourt pairing and a two-thirds of a frontcourt that can be considered the best in the league.
Are they the best, though? Let's explore...
In terms of their backcourt, I'd argue that the Lakers do have the best in the league. Whether you consider Kobe the best shooting guard in the league or not (Wade is definitely in this discussion), he's certainly one of the top two.
Last season, Kobe was named first team All-NBA for the seventh straight season and remains one of the best all-court players even though he's entering his 17th season. And while Nash is no longer the perennial MVP candidate he was several years ago, he's still revered as one of the best pure playmakers in the game today, as evidenced by his league-leading assist rate from this past season.
Furthermore, both players also have the ability to play each other's roles. Nash is not only a great set-up man, but he's one of the best shooters in the league. He doesn't always flash his ability to be a dominant scorer, but he can hit shots from all over the floor and has proven time and time again that he'll knock down the big bucket when his team needs it.
Meanwhile, Kobe can still play set-up man very well. Last season he was second to only Monta Ellis in assists per game by a shooting guard and his ability to draw a second defender and pick out the open teammate remains very high.
The only other team that possesses players close to this quality is the Nets with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. And while I won't discredit Brooklyn's duo in any way—both players are very good and are primed to have fantastic years—I'll take Nash and Bryant's cumulative accomplishments and multifaceted games over their younger counterparts if choosing today.
When looking at the frontcourt, however, I'm not sure if the Lakers can make the same claims to having the best group. While Howard is the undisputed best center and Gasol remains one of the most skilled big men, I'd lean toward the front-line the Heat can put on the floor each night.
LeBron James remains the game's best player. This isn't really up for debate. He's coming off a year for the ages in leading an NBA champion and Olympic gold medal team, while winning the regular-season and Final's MVP awards. He's a fantastic playmaker, elite scorer and the league's best perimeter defender. Add in his positional versatility—his switching between small and power forward was a key ingredient to the Heat and Team USA's accomplishments—and any frontcourt that he calls home starts with a leg up on the competition.
LeBron doesn't do it alone, however.
I've long believed that Chris Bosh is one of the more under-appreciated players in the league. There's a reason that the Heat looked beatable against the Pacers and the Celtics while Bosh sat out with injury in the playoffs. But once Bosh came back fully healthy, and brought with him his shooting ability, rebounding and defensive acumen, the Heat again morphed into the NBA's best team. Add in Shane Battier and the Heat have a trio that are two-way threats.
No disrespect to the Lakers, but if choosing between the full compliment of players that make up their frontcourt and ones that make up the Heat's, I'm taking the guys that call Miami home.
Ultimately though, when taking a step back, one has to marvel at what the Lakers have been able to do in putting together this roster and in even being able to make an argument for having the best backcourt and frontcourt units. And while they may not win out in both categories, the combination of talent they've amassed in total certainly gives them the league's best starting five. Just like Chris Bosh said.
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